It has been a whirlwind month for the Creamline Cool Smashers.
Just days after capturing the title in the Premier Volleyball League (PVL) Invitational Conference by upsetting the powerhouse Taipei King Whale squad in the finale, the team became as a fill-in for the Philippine women’s national volleyball team in the Asian Volleyball Confederation (AVC) Cup for Women and despite not having a complete roster still managed to land sixth in the tilt. Barely a week after, it was off to Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand for the three-day ASEAN Grand Prix where it finally showed fatigue and bombed in the competition.
Now, the Cool Smashers are in the midst of preparations for the upcoming PVL Reinforced Conference.
Creamline, however, subtly made a point in its stints in the three tournaments it participated in: cohesion molded over time is vital.
Having won five PVL championships since being formed in 2017 is no easy feat and the Cool Smashers don’t even boast of having the strongest line-up in the league. Yes, Creamline does have one Alyssa Valdez, who since making an imprint in the collegiate arena for the Ateneo Blue Eagles in 2009, has been the most dominant offensive juggernaut for more than a decade. The team also boasts of having perhaps the finest playmaker today in Jia Morado-de Guzman and the most underrated libero in the country in Kyla Atienza. But in all other positions, the club is perhaps average to just above average, unlike, say a complete Chery Tiggo Crossovers—which ruled the 2021 PVL Open in the Ilocos Norte bubble—or even perhaps the F2 Logistics Cargo Movers, arguably the most feared team in all of women’s volleyball when at full strength.
The cohesion factor has been prevalent since its original mentor Anusorn “Tai” Bundit of Thailand introduced a system that has since been enhanced by current head coach Sherwin Meneses, relying on constant movement, keeping the opposition off balanced and making sure that each member—down to the least used player on the bench—understands her role.
During the AVC Cup, Creamline did not have the services of Valdez (dengue fever) and energizer-bunny Risa Sato (COVID). During their first tiff against the loaded Vietnam national team, the Cool Smashers did not even have Meneses and Morado-de Guzman (COVID) in tow, but yet made it very difficult for the vaunted Tranh Thi Thanh Thuy (a.k.a. T4) and her mates to put them away in straight sets. It was not a dominating performance for the Vietnamese squad at all; they needed an extension in the third set, 31-29, thanks to an effort that pretty much solidified Atienza as among the most elite floor defenders.
Creamline went on to score victories against the Iranian national team (74th in the world rankings) in the preliminaries and the vastly-improved Australians (57th in the world) before manhandling the teenagers from Korea. The Cool Smashers also managed to steal a set against Chinese Taipei (56th) and an almost complete Thai national squad (14th in the world).
Again, all this without Valdez—the team’s bonafide leader, MVP and de-facto go-to-girl.
Of course, it was a completely different story in Thailand when the team learned prior to leaving that Valdez would still not be playing, a late scratch due the lingering effects of her illness. Creamline dropped all of its assignments in straight sets and were visibly feeling the strain of its harrowing schedule.
Afterwards, it’s fair to ask what results could have been attained if the core of the team from defending UAAP champions National University had instead seen action.
Many argue that the Cool Smashers would have still garnered better results.
Creamline showed that the meshing that was developed over years of repetition, emotional involvement and practical execution could serve as a blueprint for success by the Philippines in the international front.
Imagine if players such as Majoy Baron, Kim Kiana Dy, Dawn Macandili and Kalei Mau could have five-times-weekly sessions with the likes of Bella Belen, Alyssa Solomon, Jen Nierva, Eya Laure, Morado-de Guzman, Faith Nisperos, Jaja Santiago, Din-Din Santiago-Manabat, Mylene Paat and Valdez, along with budding young talents Kat Tolentino, MJ Phillips, Dell Palomata, Kath Arado and even potential aspirants like Alleiah Malaluan, Alyssa Bertolano, Gayle Pascual and Clo Mondoñedo could practice together for at least one full calendar year under Coach Jorge de Souza’s system with international outings and special trainings. The Philippines could be back to where it was in the 1980s as the most dominant women’s volleyball country in the region.
Creamline showed everyone that despite being vertically challenged (the Cool Smashers’ starting middle-blocker duo of Celine Domingo and Jeanette Panaga were the height of the opposing wing spikers), and outmatched in virtually all facets, experience was not an issue as Morado-de Guzman, Atienza, Michele Gumabao, Jema Galanza and the inimitable Tots Carlos were enough to almost level the playing field and make those world-ranked foes scrap for every point against the feisty and well-prepared Filipinas.
Creamline showed how the Philippine volleyball program could get back on track. Now, it’s up to the powers that be to take it to the next level.